There’s been a great deal of suspense regarding the origin of Naomi. Jamal Campbell, David F. Walker and Brian Bendis’ all-new creation clearly has cosmic connections. The multiversal teases have been aplenty, but who is she, really? And where does she come from? It’s an answer a great many are curious about, especially given the hype. This is Bendis’ big Kirby moment, much like when The King moved over to DC and let loose a wave of creative energy, forging work better than what he’d done prior and surpassing all his endeavors as a younger man. This is that moment, wherein Bendis gets to truly let loose his own wave of creative power, to add something to the DC mythology the way Kirby did. Kirby crafted The Fourth World and if one is inspired by The King and wants to expand this rich mythology, one must aspire to such “Well why not? Let’s do it” creativity, one that pushes past the past to unveil something truly fresh and new.
And the answers are very much here. While the last few issues might’ve teased them without quite delivering, this issue certainly packs nearly all of them in. It’s the penultimate installment of the mini-series, so that’s a given. But do the answers live up to the buildup and all the teasing across the prior issues? It’s the question that’ll be on a lot of people’s minds and it’s certainly nerve-wracking. And in an issue of answers, the answer to that question is, it doesn’t. But before we get to that, it’s worth addressing how the answers are provided and the work that the creatives put in to get them all across.
From the last issue’s big moments, with Naomi and her parents conversing, we immediately cut to Naomi and her friend Anna at the opening of the issue. Walker, Bendis, Campbell and letterer Wes Abbott make the conscious decision to scale back from that moment to this smaller one, where in the true scope of what’s happening in her life can be better expressed. Anna is very much us, the audience and her wonder, shock, brief disbelief and enthusiasm all mirror our own and they reignite the true magic of what Naomi’s experiencing at the moment. In big coming of age tales with huge discoveries like these, perspective can really get lost and that’s what this entire sequence and choice is about. It’s about breathing slowly and scaling back down before moving back up to deliver with impact. We get to see Naomi truly tell her friend what she’s learnt and thus get her very intimate view on things, a view that might not emerge when she’s with her parents, because loving as they are, they’re still not quite the best friend who’s her age.
It’s also utterly beautiful to see this calm, quiet and meek girl, who’s never known who she is, has struggled with that, finally coming out to tell someone who she really is. It’s her dream come true. “This is who I am” can be said out loud and it means so much to tell, to be able to tell someone, especially those she cares for and are not immediate family. The pain of being cutaway from one’s heritage, the not knowing and being like an outsider, especially when everyone knows their roots, can be a struggle. And Naomi, with its setting full of only white people save for Naomi, explores that and it’s why this moment of openness that cuts off from the last issue’s end is needed.
Campbell is brilliant in how he tells the story here, as he captures every little nuance of the characters as they interact. Naomi’s excitement, nervousness, pure euphoric joy, and confidence are all represented, with distinct expressions being used, while Anna’s shock, disbelief and many other looks are conveyed skillfully. He also colors his work, so he gets to make some very, very interesting and inspired choices here. Anna is consistently coated in blue, bearing that blue jacket, while Naomi is a gleaming golden radiance. And so the story is covered in this ordinary, normal blue when Naomi and Anna get together, but when Naomi starts spilling, her golden radiance engulfs the panel. Then the team cuts to the next panel, which is blue, full of Ben-day dots to indicate a slower passage of time, with Anna processing this and also conveying brief doubt, which her expression shows, only for the next panel to blow all out of that out with Naomi’s radiance taking over. Anna’s overjoyed and she’s surrounded by Naomi’s color — she’s “in,” she’s bought it. Little tricks like that, which the book uses a bunch (the choice of pink later for Anna is, again, inspired and conveys something totally different), make it a joy to read, as Campbell is a masterful storyteller. Coupled with Walker and Bendis’ voices, he makes the story sing.
But to get back to that chief question, the one worth digging into, the response to the revelations very much depends on the audience. A kid picking up the trade for the book at a book store months from now, with no next to no context, is going to likely have no issue with them and is going to just have a total blast. A good number of veterans are also going to be in a similar place. But on the whole, for those following with all the context, there’s a fair chance it’s going to disappoint. And it certainly did disappoint this writer.
The revelation is essentially this: Naomi comes from an alternate dystopian earth where select people got superpowers in an event dubbed “The Crisis.” The world is one where these superbeings rule over factions of the globe as monarchs, with the worst of them being Zumbado, a terrible tyrant. Naomi was sent off Superman-style to another universe, being the only child born to any of the superbeings on her world, since procreation seemed out of question for them.
It’s a fine story. It’s simple, it’s effective, there are fun allusions to Superman and it’s neat. But it’s certainly no example of a huge creative outburst, as it’s fairly generic and nothing all that fresh. The plot of a child rocketed away from a dystopian universe on the edge of apocalypse is as old as Alexander Luthor in 1980s classic Crisis, if not older still. It’s certainly not refreshingly original and boldly ambitious conceptual work that one might’ve hoped for expected. And that’s part of the disappointment. When you’re playing with the multiverse and invoking Kirby’s Fourth World as inspiration for what you’re about to add, it’s ideal that you have something that’s buzzing with potential in that same way. But it’s not, it’s more or less a weaker version of the conceits explored by Brandon Sanderson’s Reckoners books, which operate in similar territory and are fairly weak on their own. Replace “The Calamity” from that series with “The Crisis” or “Zumbado” with “Steelheart” and it’s very much that space. There’s more originality and innovation to be found in terms of conceptual work in any installment of The Multiversity than this issue’s revelation. Dystopic Earth remnant is a fairly trite and played out conceit and what’s disappointing is the book rejects so many potentially cooler alternatives or approaches for such a basic, old-school idea, after having built up the mystery for so long, stretching it across numerous issues with decompression. It’s not necessarily bad, just incredibly disappointing. Although underwhelming is likely more apt.
It also doesn’t help that the issue, while intended to be feel radically different from all that have come before, just feels like a massive info dump. Campbell brings to life gorgeous spreads, with Abbott lettering them well, but the gigantic blocks of exposition aren’t terribly exciting to read. Especially given the sort of book this has been. There had to have been a better way to get across all that information without the glut of text, given it’s all pure exposition. In the end, the choice to deliver all the reveals in this fashion just elicits a sigh.
Naomi #5 is a fine penultimate issue that serves the intent of the creative team, packed with all their skills, but still reads very disappointingly, given how well the series has carried itself thus far, how meaningful Naomi’s journey has been and how much more ambitious it could’ve been, serving her story better. It feels like the book is constrained and trapped by the limitations of the past imposed upon it, when it could break free and soar if it were permitted, exploring, expanding and unveiling new cosmic territory in the form of Kirby’s Fourth World, true to expectation and promise, much in the same way Morrison’s The Multiversity was.